Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a...

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in the first quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field. (Jan. 15, 2011) Credit: Getty Images

Before we go any further, let's get this out of the way:

By the evidence available to us as casual observers, Tom Brady has been a more upstanding citizen than Ben Roethlisberger in recent years.

At the very least, the commissioner never has seen fit to suspend Brady for conduct detrimental to the NFL's image . . . and business interests.

I stress that disclaimer to separate that reality from this one: the Jets' deep, sincere respect for Big Ben on the field - especially glaring given how much less of it they expressed for Brady last week.

The Jets made it clear how they felt about the Patriots' finger-pointing, theater-attending pretty boy, and not much of it was good, even among those who chose not to go full Cromartie on him.

Roethlisberger? Monday it sounded as if Peyton Manning and Brady were mere hors d'oeuvres before the main quarterback course.

In a sport fueled by testosterone, Roethlisberger is the ultimate manly man at his position.

"When I was in Baltimore my first year and Bart [Scott] kind of decapitated him, he came back in the game," defensive lineman Trevor Pryce said, recalling a feat that surely deserved more publicity. "You know what he did? He said, 'Great hit, Bart.' He is not going to run his mouth. He gives respect where respect is due. So you have to respect him for what he is and what he's accomplished."

That wasn't the half of it for Pryce, a 35-year-old sage who stood by his locker filling every notebook that wandered by with Big Ben testimonials.

"How do you prepare to tackle a guy who is as big as a polar bear?" he said. "How do you prepare for a guy who can flick a ball 50 yards at the drop of a dime? How do you prepare for a guy who can run like he does?

"How do you prepare for somebody who wants to win like he wants to win?"

Later, Pryce added: "He's bigger and stronger than everybody else, and he has all those pads on. He's used to it. He's taken beatings in his lifetime and gets up time after time after time. It's an amazing thing."

If it seemed a bit much, remember the Jets rarely say what they do not mean, and Pryce was far from alone.

Perhaps most telling was what Antonio Cromartie, president of the Brady Haters Club, said: "He's a great guy . . . I love Ben, man. Ben's a competitor."

Some reporters giggled, sensing some sort of Brady-related humor. Nope. Cromartie was dead serious.

"You can tell he's the guy who makes them go," safety Dwight Lowery said.

Much was made Monday of the Jets' lack of animosity for the Steelers, or at least a personal angle of the sort they milked the previous two weeks.

But if the Jets' words are to be believed, there is no need for that against Roethlisberger. The physical challenge presumably will be enough motivation.

"Roethlisberger will beat you up," Rex Ryan said, then acted out the 6-5, 240-pounder calmly swatting away a blitzer, moving out of trouble and chucking the ball downfield. "I've never seen a guy take the hits he can take and also make people miss the way he does and also be as accurate on the run."

Asked whether Roethlisberger is his kind of player, Ryan said: "Oh, yeah, no question. I would have made him a defensive end when he came out. Obviously, he's got the heart, he's tough.

"He's got everything you look for as a competitor. Yeah, he's anybody's kind of quarterback."

Is he anybody's kind of guy? Maybe not, although by all accounts, he is working on the non-football parts of his life. But on the field?

"It's an honor and privilege to go in there and play against him," Pryce said. "It really is."